What is a Game Law?

Bethney Foster

Game law is a set of statutes that govern the hunting of wildlife and that seek to conserve wildlife populations. Game law aims to allow harvesting of wildlife while ensuring that populations of species remain viable. It has likely existed in one form or another since ancient times.

Game law governs the hunting of wildlife.
Game law governs the hunting of wildlife.

Kublai Khan is recorded to have enacted laws that regulated the taking of certain species as early as the mid-1200s in China. In Britain, early game law established wildlife as the property of royalty. Hunting of large game was restricted to all but royalty and noblemen.

Kublai Khan is considered perhaps the first person on record to establish a sort of game law.
Kublai Khan is considered perhaps the first person on record to establish a sort of game law.

Forest law was introduced in Britain in 1079. These laws protected animals such as the roe and the fallow deer from hunting, and a death penalty was established for those who hunted illegally. Peasants were often restricted even in the gathering of wood from the forests because this would disturb the habitat of the protected animals.

Virginia established a game law in 1632 after wolves threatened livestock.
Virginia established a game law in 1632 after wolves threatened livestock.

The earliest game law in the United States was a bounty that paid for the killing of wolves. One of the earliest was established in Virginia in 1632 because wolves were threatening the livestock of colonists. Within the next century, laws establishing hunting seasons and hunting limits and requiring hunting licenses followed.

The killing of wolves was an early game law to keep wolves from killing livestock.
The killing of wolves was an early game law to keep wolves from killing livestock.

As of 2011 in the United States, game law is primarily set by each individual state. Federal game law generally is restricted to migratory animals and endangered species. Native American tribes in the United States are exempted from some hunting legislation.

One example of a U.S. federal game law is the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act. Passed in 1934, the act requires hunters to purchase a stamp each year. Funds from the sale of the stamps are used for the National Wildlife Refuge System.

In 1831, Great Britain passed its Game Act aimed at protecting birds that are commonly hunted. The act continues to govern the hunting of game birds in Britain. It established hunting seasons, made it illegal to hunt on Sundays and Christmas Day, and required hunters to purchase a license. French game laws were enacted in 1844.

Among the most recent game law enacted as of 2011 is legislation that seeks to protect the rights of hunters as anti-hunting sentiments grow. Most U.S. states now have hunter protection legislation on their books. In Britain, animal-welfare laws usually contain exceptions for hunting.

Fox hunting has been the focus of many game law debates in the early 21st century in Britain, Scotland, and Ireland. The Hunting Act of 2004 in the United Kingdom bans hunting with dogs. In 2002, Scotland also banned hunting with dogs.

Game law passed at the federal level is generally limited to endangered species and migratory animals.
Game law passed at the federal level is generally limited to endangered species and migratory animals.

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